The Indiana champion scored his first victory in over a year three years after a stirring Breeders Crown triumph.
by James Platz
While the eyes of the harness racing world were fixed on The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono for Breeders Crown last Saturday, a former Crown champion quietly picked up his first win of the season at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Three years removed from his signature win at Woodbine, Freaky Feet Pete dashed home in :26.4 for driver Trace Tetrick and stuck a neck in front of Night Pro to score a 1:52 triumph. The victory was the 32nd of his career, but his first time back in the winner’s circle since August 2017.
“Last season and this season has been pretty up and down. He raced well at points last year,” said Marty Rheinheimer, who trains the millionaire and world champion. “It was good to see Pete back in the mix.”
The son of Rockin Image has been plagued by splint bone issues that have limited his starts in 2017 and 2018. It was a broken splint bone that cut Pete’s 2016 season short and began the string of ailments. After allowing the bone to heal naturally with time away from the track, the pacer returned to action last season. He registered nine starts before the same bone broke once again.
“Last year when we quit with him after the sires stakes he had broken a splint bone in that same leg,” Rheinheimer said of the stallion, bred and first conditioned by his late father, Larry. “We let it heal the first time and he broke that splint bone again, so we had it removed this time.”
With those issues behind them, the trainer, who co-owns the horse with his mother, Mary Jo, began to prepare Freaky Feet Pete for the 2018 campaign. All was going according to plan when the six year old sustained another injury that again put him on the shelf.
“I had him just about ready to qualify in June and he broke a splint bone in the other front leg. We had to take those out and that set me back another six to eight weeks,” the conditioner said.
Pete returned to Hoosier Park on August 25 in the first of three qualifying efforts. The Indiana-sired star handily won each trip behind the gate, clocking miles of 1:55.1, 1:53 and 1:53.4. In his pari-mutuel debut Oct. 13, Freaky Feet Pete paced in 1:52.4. The next week (Oct. 19), he returned to race fifth, registering a 1:52.3 mile. While not a win, Rheinheimer saw more from his charge that contest than his winning effort.
“Actually, the start the week before, he was the last horse at the top of the stretch and he came flying home. He came home a 27-second last quarter in a serious head wind,” the conditioner offered. “The week before was more impressive than last week to me. Last week he had the perfect trip and he did what good horses do, fought to the wire. The week before I saw flashes of the old Pete in him.”
Rheinheimer said the plan is to take it one race at a time with the former Indiana Sires Stake champion. The trainer brought the homebred back to competition this fall to gauge his progress. He would like to give the pacer a few starts at Dayton to close out the year, but Freaky Feet Pete is working through issues with scar tissue.
“There is some scar tissue in the original leg. He might come up a little sore for a couple of days. It’s just a process of getting that scar tissue torn loose. That’s kind of a big battle right now, but he seems to have come out of everything good so far,” he stated. “I don’t think he’s lost any ability or any of his desire. He never ceases to amaze me. He loves to race. I can’t really even describes it. That’s what he loves to do.”
Racing fans have been awaiting Freaky Feet Pete’s return. The horse that was once one-third of the heralded “Big Three” that also included champions Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit generated interest when he began qualifying this summer. After his latest win, Rheinheimer said many congratulated him on Pete’s return to action.
“There is a lot of interest. After he won the other night, I don’t know how many people congratulated me and told me it was great to see him back,” he said. “People want to see him come back.”
A career winner of more than $1.5 million with a 4-year-old mark of 1:47.1 taken at Pocono, Freaky Feet Pete’s 2015 Crown victory was one of the feel-good moments of the championship card. While the last two-plus seasons have been a rollercoaster ride for the Rheineimer family, marked by both triumph and tragedy, Pete is a horse of a lifetime. Marty Rheinheimer wants to see his charge compete in 2019, but he won’t risk the horse in order to do so.”
“It’s conflicting because he’s the best horse we’ve ever had and the best horse we’ll ever have, more than likely. It is hard to give up on one like that. If he holds up and races well, and he’s not hurting, we’ll bring him back and race him next year.” he said. “I just don’t ever want him to look bad. People in Indiana and the local community love to watch the horse race. But I don’t ever want him to be a five claimer. I won’t ever do that to him.”